As SPSMM’s editor for contributions to the Good Men Project Magazine, I’d like to respond to some points made by Mr. Paul Elam (“Men and Violence: Blaming the Blameless“) in response to an article written by Chris Kilmartin, Ph.D., (“Violence Is a Men’s Issue“). Elam notes that Kilmartin did not explicitly reference any research in his article. It’s GMPM policy, obviously, to fact-check, but not require citations in the text of the article. And of course, we hope that GMPM readers interested in the topic would follow links back to the author’s homepage. Readers can also visit the free bibliographic service at Google Scholar, or view books listed by their favorite bookseller. Searches for “violence masculinity” at Google Scholar indicate nearly 87,000 references and at Amazon.com indicate nearly 500 titles, including Kilmartin’s three books.
Elam wants you to think about the issue in terms of men vs. women: who’s more likely to start violence, who’s more likely to engage in violence, and who’s more likely to get hurt. Those are important issues, but they aren’t the focus of Kilmartin’s article. Kilmartin argued that we need to stop the violence—one way to do that is for men to hold each other accountable. When men turn their ability for violence—which is supposed to be used to protect their country and loved ones—onto their partners or children, that’s masculinity gone bad. When men hurt their partners—the people we men are expected to protect—it looks bad for all men. And men are much more likely to cause damage that requires medical treatment, a point that Kilmartin and Elam agree on.
The idea that a small percentage of men can make all men look bad isn’t far fetched. The U.S. military understands this; the events of a small number of soldiers at My Lai and Abu Ghraib left the entire military with a proverbial black eye. In response, the military increased awareness, changed training, and prosecuted those whose misdeeds directly caused the problem. Kilmartin suggests that men do the same; we should make all men more aware and hold accountable those men who are violent and therefore make us all look bad.
Elam draws an interesting parallel with problems in the African American community. What folks in those communities realized was that they needed to take care of their own. Black communities throughout the U.S. have found a myriad of ways to try to prevent their young men from becoming violent and thus being killed or incarcerated (admittedly, some programs have been more effective than others). Kilmartin is arguing for the same: that we, as men, find ways to help other men refrain from violence. This seems to be especially problematic for Elam, who believes that men should “abandon any notion of commitment to women or vulnerability to them,” and who is “anti-marriage and anti-commitment to the core.” Like Kilmartin, I think that some of our society’s expectations of men contribute to the problem. And like Kilmartin, I think that we, as men, can and should help other men.
—Andrew Smiler, Ph.D.
Andrew P. Smiler, Ph.D., is a visiting professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and the president-elect of SPSMM. More information is available on his website.